Mrs. Thatcher was of course brought up in Grantham. Her father, Alderman Alfred Roberts owned a grocers on the corner of North Parade and Broad Street, and the family lived above the shop. Years later, sometime after she was appointed prime minister, the North Parade corner shop was sold. It was bought by Rodney Cloke, an enterprising young local property developer, who changed the former Thatcher family home into a 48 seat restaurant. In a stroke of quite brilliant marketing he named the new eatery the “Premier Restaurant” He really ought to have copyrighted the Premier name. Its use in entrepreneurial situations had the potential to be quite innovative and lucrative. Premier Pipes springs to mind for the former home of Harold Wilson in Harrogate. Premier Dossiers up in the Hexham home of Blair and perhaps an exclusive Premier underpants shop in John Major’s old gaff in Huntingdon But I digress. The Premier restaurant proved to be very popular. It had a replica No: 10 Downing Street door and the bill would arrive at your table in a mini red despatch box. Patrons were attracted from across the midlands, appreciative foodies, inquisitive political groupies, committed conservatives and bolshie Labourites who would always complain and walk out because the waiters were not unionised. Occasionally anti-thatcher demonstrations would hurl abuse at the North Parade corner shop as can be seen from this picture of a colleague during an anti-cuts demo back in the early eighties. In the end it proved too much for Mr. Cloke the property developer, and he decided to put the Premier restaurant up for sale and move on. Thus it was, that in an extended and rather liquid lunch in the Fellows Morton & Clayton public house, beside the canal in Nottingham, that a group of inebriated socialists hatched a plan to purchase the North Parade Corner shop on behalf of the working class, and turn it, most appropriately, into a corner shop center for the unemployed. The more Fellows Morton & Clayton home brew that flowed the better the idea seemed. By four o’clock the working class of Nottingham, or at least the six of us in the pub, had decided to make an offer for the infamous house in which our most intransigent class enemy was born and reared. It was not very difficult, even in those days before computers and cut and paste word programmes, to forge a set of documents to use in the workers plan to purchase the North Parade premises. With the headed notepaper of the Manpower Services Commission, a pot of glue and a pair of scissors we had soon enough created a new Government body, part of the Department of Employment and known as the East Midlands Area Board of the Manpower Services Commission. It’s “address” was 6 Sherwood Rise, my own offices, and we even allocated the new Board an exclusive telephone number. Mine. Correspondence was entered into with the Estate Agents and solicitors having carriage of sale of the famous corner shop. We advised we were acting on behalf of the Dept. of Employment and had limited funds. We entered into a series of offers and counter offers trying, as we advised them, to remain within the budget allocated to us by the Minister. Our final offer was of interest to the vendors. I cannot now recall what it was as many years ago all the paperwork, including our forged documents was consigned to the Lincolnshire Museums. Before confirming our final offer we asked to arrange for a visit to North Parade, with our architects and with some local Lincolnshire unemployed, to make a final assessment of the suitability of the premises for a center for the unemployed. It was agreed that it would take place on the 31st March. The eve of April Fool’s day! The plan was to issue a press release announcing our purchase to the world and our intention to turn it into a centre for the unemployed. There was, we said, government funds available to establish a Youth Opportunities Programme to train waiters and we may even be able to get them training places, we asserted, in the House of Commons. The Restaurant part of the premise was to re-named for its role in the Youth Opportunities Programme, as “Mrs. T’s Tea-Parlour” inspired, so we claimed, by Mrs. Thatcher herself and by the very successful and similar YOP premises in Bradford, run by Dr. Barnardo’s and known as Dr. B’s Kitchen. There was enough plausibility in this to get past most editorial desks and we invited the press to come along, on the occasion of our visit and inspection, for a photo-opportunity with some of the Lincolnshire un-employed who would benefit from this East Midlands Area Board of the Manpower Services commission investment. My secretary, the always effective Janice was in on the plan. She was to field telephone calls and advise that “Mr Hall” of the East Midlands Area Board, was away from the office and would call them back later. There were no mobile phones in those days and if you were out of the office you were not contactable – ah! Glorious days! She was to distribute the Press release on a schedule that would get the copy onto editorial desks on a perfect timetable for April the 1st. But an error was made. The Press release was released prematurely and we had, at the last moment to face the fact that the story would be out well before April 1st and our timing of the purchase as an April fool’s day contribution was bound to fail. We brought forward our intended visit and inspection with the Estate Agent who had by now been inundated with press enquiries and was becoming, for the first time, a bit suspicious of whom we were. We had not told him of the intention to rename the premises as Mrs. T’s Tea-Parlour. But the die was cast. All we now needed was a suitable group of unemployed people. The crew from Fellows Morton & Clayton were not really suitable. Too clean cut, wore suits and ties, were always slightly drunk, were not really working class. I turned to my loyal union membership at Nottingham City’s Wilford Hill crematorium. Grave diggers. Oh they were so keen to play their part. Would rather work for Thatcher than anyone else in England they said. An old gravediggers joke, but strongly felt nonetheless. So on the fateful day, I called at Wilford Hill to collect five gravediggers, straight out of the earth, and we sped across to Grantham, they rehearsing their lines as Lincolnshire unemployed, and me rehearsing my lines as Mr. Hall, the Head of the East Midlands Area Board of the Manpower Services Commission. Outside the North Parade corner shop there was a sizable crowd of press and curious onlookers. T.V. crews from the BBC and Central Television were there, a good sprinkling of local radio stations, BBC radio 4, and quite a number of national and local newspaper reporters and photographers. The Estate agent was fuming and said the vendor was not going to allow us in. So we just got on with it. I turned to the press and we held an impromptu press conference. We announced our purchase of the premises. There was an appreciative round of applause. I regretted we could not go into Mrs. Thatcher’s house because of health and safety considerations. I introduced the grave diggers as local lads still out of work, looking forward to a real center for the unemployed in Grantham. More appreciative applause. Interviews followed with the TV and radio reporters, photographs in the doorway, Oh it was such fun and the gravediggers were magnificent. Charlie, the man on the left end of the photograph, still had his City Council donkey jacket on, clogged with mud from a Wilford Hill grave he was digging. Told Radio Nottingham he’d been working in his allotment. And then it was over. Oh course they caught me. My address and telephone number was on the forged headed notepaper. Detectives from Nottinghamshire Constabulary called around to 6 Sherwood Rise the following week, investigating, they said, a potential fraud. They must of sensed that it was not too serious a fraud when they saw that 6 Sherwood Rise was the Regional offices of the National Union of Public Employees. Nevertheless they insisted upon a formal interview and the taking of a statement. They sat in my office and I told them it was obvious someone had used my office address. I was afraid I knew nothing of it. I had never heard of the East Midlands Area Board or of Mr. Hall, I said. I would probably have got away with it had not Janice, at that very moment put her head around the door and said “John there’s another phone call for Mr. Hall do you want to take it?” The detectives looked at Janice. Gave her one of those long detective looks. They looked at me. I looked at them. We all started laughing.
But the real Manpower Services Commission were not so sanguine about it. They filed a a formal complaint to my General Secretary Rodney Bickerstaff, but nothing came of it. However, down at Fellows Morton & Clayton, the be suited plotters were joined by the horny handed gravediggers in an lengthy liquid celebration …..
Check out the CONTENTS page for more bits and pieces